How TikTok lifted off our small businesses

From Left: TikTokers Anne Muhia, Mwangi Muthoni and Lynn Boke.

Photo credit: Courtesy | Billy Ogada

When TikTok was launched in Kenya, not many knew that it would one day be a gold mine for entrepreneurs. For many business owners now, TikTok is where their clients are.
Meet Mwangi Muthoni, the proprietor of Dreadlocks Nairobi Kenya.

With over 50,000 followers, Mwangi posts all about dreadlocks: different hairstyles and how to care for them.
He started his TikTok page in 2021, but the focus was not much on the number of likes.
“We just created videos, and people commented. People asked questions, and we always answered. That’s how we started getting clients from TikTok as they began to have confidence in our work,” the 31-year-old hairstylist tells Lifestyle.
Mwangi studied information technology in college but says he failed to secure employment, partly because his dreadlocks affected his job opportunities.
“One employer said he wouldn’t hire an employee with dreadlocks and suggested I look for a job as a DJ. I decided to open the dreadlocks salon in 2013 because I love dreadlocks,” says Mwangi, who now has a salon at Kenya Cinema in Nairobi’s Central Business District.

Mwangi Muthoni tends to a client on June 20, 2024, at his salon in Nairobi.  

Photo credit: Billy Ogada | Nation Media Group

When he thought of entrepreneurship, his biggest hurdle was getting funding.
“Banks are not particularly eager to give loans to startups. I remember one declining to give me a loan despite my good business plan,” Mwangi says.
This prompted him to start small. With a capital investment of Sh160,000, he set up his salon in a small space on Nairobi’s Accra Road.
“I later saved up, and with a Sh1 million investment, I managed to move here (at Kenya Cinema) in 2015. At first, I invested every penny I made into the business. Now the business is profitable and has given back threefold,” he says.

Part of this growth, he attributes to TikTok.

“We get most of our clients from TikTok,” says Mwangi, who has four employees now.
But to woo customers, consistency is key.

“Every day we must post a video or photo, even if it means rehashing some of the old ones,” he adds.

One of the challenges of courting customers on TikTok is that you have to post your work, which means he has to ask clients whether they can take videos of their done hair.
“Most of our posts will not show the faces of our clients unless the client permits it. In any case, we are mainly interested in showing our followers our services,” says Mwangi.
As a man in a female-dominated hair industry, does he face sexism?
“It is actually the female salonists who face discrimination. When I started the salon, I hired mainly female hairdressers, but many clients believed that men are better qualified when it comes to making dreadlocks. So, it took a lot of training and convincing that women too are just as competent,” he says, adding “but the challenge in this industry is that you take time to train a hairdresser, and they get poached by other stylists, and they go with my clients.”

Lynn Boke

Lynn Boke has also grown her business through TikTok. The 25-year-old professionally trained chef is the owner of Lynn’s Kitchen Gallery.

“I cook from home and deliver to my clients, from corporate breakfasts, meal preps, and meal plans. I also do private catering and teach cooking classes. Lately, I have been focusing more on teaching,” says Lynn, who cooks from their home in Runda, Nairobi, adding that she named it Lynn’s Kitchen Gallery because “I have so many photos of meals I have prepared, so I opened a kitchen gallery for them.”

Lynn Boke cutting watermelon on June 24, 2024 at her home in Nairobi. 

Photo credit: Billy Ogada | Nation Media Group

She opened the TikTok page as soon as she started the business in November 2023.

“Initially, I’d post recipes on TikTok and then put the cooking videos on YouTube. Then I started posting videos on TikTok too. I started by posting a preparation I had made for my sister’s birthday. This video had around 10,000 views. Then I did a picnic for a friend and posted it. That is when it all blew up,” she says.

She now has over 22,000 followers.

Lynn says she was not so keen on TikTok at first.

“I had dismissed TikTok as a place for trends and dance videos, but then I realised that on Instagram, I was reaching the same people I used to reach, so I thought I should expand to TikTok. I post at least twice a week because my work involves being in the kitchen a lot. I may find myself cooking from 8 am until 4 pm,” she says.

Her love for cooking stems from a young age.

“In high school. I was a scout, and we would go to competitions about once every month, and you would have to fend for yourself. I started as an observer but found myself gravitating towards the kitchen. In no time, I was replacing the chef because everyone loved my food,” she says.

One time they travelled to Mauritius, and she was solely in charge of cooking for 30 students every day.

“From that time, I knew this was something I was passionate about. So before joining the university to study engineering, I joined Bomas International for a certificate course. I thought that would be enough, but even after completing my studies at university, I found myself still in love with the kitchen,” the trained engineer says about her passion for cooking.

Lynn, who cooks from her parents’ home and sometimes from her own, did not struggle with getting cooking equipment.

“Since my mom and I love cooking, we often host families and friends, so there was already equipment like chaffing dishes and big and small sufurias. I have been using what is in my mother’s kitchen. Right now, I am not keen on moving to a commercial space,” she says.
When she started, she only had one order.

“I started with one order in December 2023, and now I get around four orders a week. TikTok has helped me grow. It has exposed me to different classes of people, including corporate clients. It has also exposed me to people between the ages of 25 to 34, busy customers with families and jobs who are in a position and pay for my services. The majority of my clients are from TikTok,” she says.

Negative comments

Despite TikTok having lifted off her business, she still has to deal with negative comments.
“I receive negative comments often. There are foods that you can prepare, like pilau, chapati, and biryani, that everyone has an opinion on. Other times, I can quote a price, and not everyone will agree with it. Some comments I ignore, but some can be hurtful,” she says.

So how does she ensure she reaches many people?

Commenting on your posts, Lynn notes, can help you gain traction and get more views. “The more you comment, your algorithm improves, and your video will be recommended to more people,” she says, “I use my iPhone to create the content. I shoot during the day when the lighting is good. I aim to create the videos before noon because of the sun’s angling.”

To other entrepreneurs, she encourages them to “post consistently, people are watching. You just need one person to see it, and that person will recommend you to the next person.”

Anne Muhia

Anne Muhia, an entrepreneur, attests to the ability to earn money through TikTok.

“After leaving a job as a group financial manager in 2017, I became an entrepreneur. I started with a small boda boda delivery service and then a butchery business. When I started my TikTok channel at the end of 2022, I had just experienced employee theft and lost Sh300,000 from my butchery. I was frustrated and wondered whether every businessperson goes through the same thing. I thought maybe I was the problem. I wanted to share my entrepreneurship journey. I thought things would be easier since I had been an accountant for a long time and had never stolen, so I thought that was how it was supposed to be everywhere. Now I found myself going back to the drawing board, having to learn and unlearn. Hence my username, ‘Unprepared Entrepreneur,’” the 36-year-old accountant says of her TikTok journey.

Anne Muhia, Co-founder of Lewaki Eco-solutions and a Tiktoker.

Photo credit: Courtesy

“I chose TikTok because I thought no one knew me there. I felt there weren’t many people talking about how hard it is to build a business; everyone else was talking about success. When I shared the first video, I got 7,000 views, and people were reacting, so I kept at it.”

Now, Anne is approaching 30,000 followers.

What started as a page to vent her frustrations recently earned her six figures.

“When I create informative videos, people reach out to me with inquiries on how to overcome different business challenges. The TikTok community I am growing comprises employed people with side hustles, small businesses, and even big entrepreneurs. Brands are seeking to speak to that community through me because my audience trusts me. Recently, I made over Sh100,000 from one of the brands that wanted to reach that particular audience,” says Anne, who is also the co-founder of Lowaki Eco-Solutions.

 Lowaki is a company that facilitates the adoption and access to clean energy solutions in rural Kenya.
“With Lowaki, my target clients are not on TikTok, but my suppliers and people who could potentially give us grants are here.”

Anne, who is setting up her podcast soon, says, “TikTok has taught me that money follows value. By giving value to my audience, I will also get value.”

Her biggest challenge, however, has been consistency.

“Sometimes you go through a very challenging season in your business that affects your output. If my direct business (Lowaki) is going through a tough season, I end up reducing my output on TikTok. I started by posting once a week, and now I want to post three times a week. I only use my iPhone, which has a clear view. I shoot in my car with good lighting,” she says.

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